Today we published a report called “Leading Distributed Teams”. The report is the output of a behavioural research project did in April 2020. We wanted to learn how working as distributed teams affect team behaviour in terms of productivity, creativity and wellbeing. From a scientific point of view, the COVID-19 crisis is a god gift. It’s nothing more than a gigantic A/B test that offers us a unique opportunity to learn how office-work and home-work have an impact on team behaviour.
What the Covid crisis can teach us
The Corona-Crisis provides us with a unique learning opportunity for designing the ultimate gratifying work, combined with the perfect work-life balance. This report offers a deep understanding of how distributed working contributes to this. More importantly, it gives managers and leaders lots of practical insights into how they can coach their team to benefit the most from distributed working.
The essential idea from the report is that if you want to understand team behaviour, you need to take the human behind the professional or manager as your point of departure.
If you want to understand the humans in professional teams, you need to understand their deeper needs and desires they wish to see fulfilled and their more deep-seated fears and anxieties they want to be tackled.
That’s why the question “Is working from home better than working in the office?” is not the right question. It’s much more interesting to turn this question outside-in and ask ourselves:
How might ‘distant working’ or ‘working in the office’ help people to
Be more successful in achieving their goals?
Overcome bad habits like being distracted?
Take away fears and uncertainty about their performance?
The answer to this question can pave the path to a very near future in which we can experience the joy of being part of a high-performance team. At the same time, having more than enough time left to pursue our personal goals, instead of wasting too much time in our lives on traffic jams, pointless meetings, highly distracting office spaces and patronising managers.
What you will learn in the report
The big challenge for the managers and leaders who need to manage their teams will be to promote the positive behaviours that contribute to high-performance output and wellbeing while suppressing the behaviours and habits that stand in the way of achieving these outcomes.
This research paper will give you a deep understanding of:
The behavioural forces that make or break team success.
How offices both promote and kill high-performance team behaviour.
How working from home solves some negative office dynamics.
How working from home create new challenges that need to be solved.
How managers can lead distributed teams successfully.
There are two ways to download the report
We understand that reading this report requires a bit of a time investment (probably 30-45 minutes). But I promise you will learn a lot if you do. You will have a more profound understanding of the problem if you take the time to read the quotes that people gave to express their feelings and thoughts.
Read theexecutive summary if you want to pick up the most critical insights and recommendations.
There are several ways in which you leverage Behavioural Design to boost your team’s performance and your talent’s personal development. Contact Susan de Roode for more information or click on the links below to find out more right away.
ONE-DAY TEAM WORKSHOP
We can help boost your team’s collaboration, motivation and development. Our one-day in-company ‘Habits of High-Performance Teams’ workshop is a great opportunity to get you team together again and have them reinvent working together.
BEHAVIOURAL DESIGN SPRINT
We can help you innovate and grow your team in a Behavioural Design Sprint: a fast-paced, evidence-based approach to leverage behavioural science to achieve operational excellence.
BEHAVIOURAL INSIGHT SPRINT
We can help you unlock the behavioural barriers and boosters that can help transform your team to a high-performance team in a Behavioural Insight Sprint.
You can also hire SUE to help you to bring an innovative perspective on your product, service, policy or marketing. In a Behavioural Design Sprint, we help you shape choice and desired behaviours using a mix of behavioural psychology and creativity.
You can download the Behavioural Design Fundamentals Course brochure, contact us here or subscribe to our Behavioural Design Digest. This is our weekly newsletter in which we deconstruct how influence works in work, life and society.
Or maybe, you’re just curious about SUE | Behavioural Design. Here’s where you can read our backstory.
The course of history for the upcoming decade needs to be written in a couple of weeks. Massive failure is not an option. The situation is too dangerous for dogmatic thinking. It’s time to let scientists, behavioural economists, designers and makers to join forces and embrace a build-measure-learn attitude to nudge people safely into the one-and-a-half-meter economy.
Here are 5 principles to set up a Corona Advisory Team that needs to shape society after the Big OpenUp.
From Intelligent lockdown do smart OpenUp.
There’s a growing call in the public debate for the next group of scientists the government should rely upon, to fix the crisis. Up until now, most countries relied heavily on virologists and epidemiologists. With the opening up of society, it’s time now to shift gears and bring in the psychologists, economists, designers of public space, social geographists, etc.
I think that’s a great idea. Just like we relied on smart people to guide us quite successfully through the intelligent lockdown, we will now need to rely on smart people to guide us through the intelligent OpenUp. The ultimate task of this board is to design behaviour on a massive scale. It needs to figure out the 1000 billion dollar question on how to reboot the economy, without re-activating the COVID-19 virus.
As a consultancy for behavioural change, I think we learned a few things on how to set up a projects like this . So thought it might be a good idea to draft a checklist of criteria for setting up these boards.
Principle 1: The method is as important as the people
The fundamental principle for this board to run effectively is to have a creative methodology and an experienced facilitator that knows how to guide a multidisciplinary group through that process. If you need to come up with interventions to influence minds and shape behaviour on a massive scale, you need to go through a step-by-step process of gathering behavioural insights, generate hypothesises, prototype ideas and test them as fast as you can.
There’s so much knowhow on how to guide teams to high-performance output in a context of extreme uncertainty: Lean Startup, Design Thinking, the Behavioural Design Method, to name a few. The team needs to agree to one method and stick to it.
Principle 2: Put human irrationality at the core of what you do
Your goal is to open up society again, while at the same time getting everyone to stick to elementary rules of precaution. Most people aren’t evil or anti-social; they simply forget to think. Or worse, they observe the spontaneous behaviour of other people and assume they can follow that norm. Before you know it, everything falls into pieces. To craft policies for the intelligent open-up demands a deep understanding of how people think, feel and behave. A lot of policies are designed with rational, disciplined people who act in their self-interest in mind. These interventions are doomed to fail.
Principle 3: Establish rules for good judgement.
I have written about rules for good judgement in a previous post “How to smell bullshit? Seven rules for good judgement“. The team needs to operate in a context of high uncertainty, flawed data, considerable risk and incredible public sensitivity. There’s a lot of science out there on how to get to better judgement in groups. To name a few principles I mentioned in my blogpost:
Superforcasting principles: a set of techniques to predict with fewer biases
The use of mental models for decision-making: the discipline to look at the problem through multiple scientific concepts
Blue team / red team approach: the discipline to set up a team that argues for counter-arguments, with the purpose of spotting flaws, wishful thinking or other biases in the reasoning
Principle 4: Prototyping and testing before implementing
Behavioural change requires experimentation. The success of an intervention is very sensitive to ‘little big details’. Sometimes it’s just the wrong word, a wrong timing or an unexpected second-order effect that could completely turn the intervention useless. Humans are complex beings operating in complex systems.
Every little act signals something to the group and vice versa: Everything their social network thinks or says, deeply affect their thoughts, feelings and behaviours.
When your task as the Corona Advisory Team is to design behaviour on an unprecedented scale, there’s only one way to make progress: Rapid experimentation. Expect a lot of experiments to fail, with the simple idea to stumble upon winning strategies a lot faster.
Principle 5: Select people with skin in the game.
I applaud the experiment that the Dutch Government had done last week. They organised a hackathon to speed up the process of finding an app that could work to track and isolate infected people, while at the same time respecting privacy. Although the hackathon resulted in a ‘failure’, in the sense that it didn’t produce a winning prototype, I think you can also think of it as a success.
The government went through a steep learning curve without having spent millions of taxpayers money. And they learned that the usual consultancy suspects – companies that are very good at understanding how to win tenders – are probably not the best builders. The reason is simple: They have no skin in the game. They don’t have the maker, builder, tweaker or hacker skills that are so desperately needed for this job.
If the government wants to set up a Corona Advisory Team, I would urge the government to use the principles I outlined above. Don’t go with the usual team of pundits and advisors. Go for a board of practitioners. Or at least: Give them an equal share-of-voice: People who think in terms of understanding the problem and experimenting with solutions. People who move fast, know how to make, build, measure, learn and adapt. People who are humble about the fact that they operate in high uncertainty, but are willing to experiment their way out of it.
If you want to read more thoughts on this topic on the Behavioural Design Blog:
If you want to learn more about how influence works, you might want to consider our Behavioural Design Academy masterclass. Or organize an in-company program or workshop for your team. In our masterclass we teach the Behavioural Design Method, and the Influence Framework. Two powerful frames for behavioural change.
You can also hire SUE to help you to bring an innovative perspective or your product, service or marketing in a Behavioural Design Sprint. You can download the brochure here, or subscribe to Behavioural Design Digest at the bottom of this page. This is our weekly newsletter in which we deconstruct how influence works in work, life and society.
Or maybe, you’re just curious about SUE | Behavioural Design. Here’s where you can read our backstory.
We are now 8 days further into this crisis and the world has gone into various forms of lockdown. There’s a big debate on whether this is the right strategy. It could be the worst of two worlds: We will harm the economy and when shit will hit the fan, we’ll be even more vulnerable. Nassim Taleb takes – as always – a radically different approach. He argues in this paper that lockdown could literarily wipe the virus out in 2 or 3 months. Hopeful.
I have added a couple of nuances at the end of this blog on austerity.
As I’m writing this piece (March 10th 2020), the virus is raging through the economy. Stock markets are heading towards catastrophic losses, and governments are forced to take draconic measures. The virus is going to hit the economy hard. How do we make sense of this all? And what’s the best way to respond as businesses and as a society? The most useful mental models that come to mind are the concepts of ‘Black Swan Events’ and ‘Anti-fragility’ by Nassim Nicolas Taleb.
Nicolas Nassim Taleb
Covid-19 s a classic Black Swan Event
In The Black Swan, Nassim Nicolas Taleb argues that we humans assume that the world is a fairly predictable place. We believe the stock market will keep on growing. We act upon the belief that the world will keep on evolving towards more prosperity. We assume interests will remain so low; you’d be crazy not to borrow. We keep pumping CO2 into the atmosphere because we believe that nature will keep on absorbing most of the damage we inflict upon her. Taleb argues that we all think we live in Normalistan, and we make all of our decision based on a firm believe in Normalistan. This conviction works very well,… until it doesn’t.
Taleb argues that Normalistan is an Illusion. Once in a while, an extreme and unexpected event happens that turns everything on its head. The classic example is a crash of the stock market. In 2008 everyone was drunk with optimism about the ludicrous profits they could make on the stock market and in the housing market, until the day that Lehman fell.
Taleb calls these events’ Black Swan Events’: Highly improbalistic events that instantly reshuffle everything we thought we knew about the world. People always thought all swans are white until one-day explorers brought a black swan from Australia. This urged us to revise our understanding of the world instantly. Taleb himself made a fortune as a trader betting against ‘black swan events’. He took insurance against the crash of stocks, waited for years until the stock market crashed and got incredibly rich. For a similar story; Watch the Big Short on Netflix.
The Big Short – On Netflix
How to deal with black swans: Anti-fragilty
After writing the Black Swan, Taleb followed up with the book ‘Antifragile: Things that Gain from Disorder‘, in which he came up with strategies to deal with Black Swan Events. He argues that most systems cannot cope very well with disorder or unexpected events. Big corporations, for instance, are very robust, which works very well in times of economic booms. However, robustness becomes highly problematic in times of crisis or the face of technological disruption and rapid market transformation. A big corporation is like a tanker, that has a significant advantage in calm, open waters, but is hopeless when it needs to manoeuvre fast and agile.
The opposite of a fragile system is a system that gets stronger from disorder. For instance: Netflix runs the Chaos Monkey on their servers. The chaos monkey is a script that attacks servers or groups of servers. Netflix inflicts constant unexpected attacks upon itself to get stronger when it has to deal with attacks from the outside world. Taleb calls these systems anti-fragile.
Antifragile systems benefit from disorder, obstacles, unexpected events, or change. Silicon Valley, for instance, is very anti-fragile, because it counts on lots of startups to fail because they expect a tiny group of startups to become massively successful. By allowing lots of failure to happen, it increases its chances of stumbling upon success.
Antifragile by Nassim Taleb
Covid-19 is a Black Swan Event
This brings me to the Corona virus. This is a classic black swan event. Out of nowhere, it suddenly threatens the global economy, the unstoppable rise of China, the American elections, etc. Trillions of dollars of values already evaporated in the course of days. And we’re just getting started.
The virus is ruthless in bringing to the surface which systems are anti-fragile and which ones are not. Let’s look at some observations of how obviously fragile our economy is:
The world economy, with its just-in-time delivery of goods and services, is very vulnerable. All industries that depend on Chinese production capacity are now screwed.
The obsession with ferocious growth through enormous amounts of corporate debt, suddenly becomes highly problematic, now that investors want to get out of high-risk value papers as soon as possible. Debt-filled companies don’t have reserves for dealing with crises.
Most health care systems in the world are utterly unprepared for a pandemonium. In our collective free-market obsessions with cutting away redundancies, we optimized to cope with Normalistan. If the spreading of the virus continues as it does today, the US will run out of hospital beds within two months.
Lot’s of SME’s are rapidly getting into trouble: Orders get cancelled, and incomes drop sharply, while at the same time it’s not that easy to cut costs quickly. You can’t fire your staff with a snap of your fingers.
The travel industry is not anti-fragile. Airlines are getting big blows. The first airline Flybe has already gone bankrupt. Airline margins are very low, competition is killing, and the business model can only function through continuous growth.
The efficiency maffia holds a firm grip on the economy. And they usually get away with it, until they get surprised by a black swan event. They collectively shout in despair that they had never seen in coming.
The problem is: There are always going to be Black Swan Events. You never know when, but they’ll happen. We have to design our systems – society, work, our personal lives,… – with the expectation of black swan events at heart.
Anti-fragility in the face of Corona
What do anti-fragile systems look like? Who will get stronger from this virus-induced economic recession in the making? Here are a couple of principles
The ability to change course fast: anti-fragile systems benefit from a capability to coordinate for rapid change. Singapore got much credit for being the world standard for how to deal with the virus. The government has set up a massive fever-surveillance system, so nearly nobody can remain under the radar for too long (and infect others). Their capability for massive mobilization makes them slightly less fragile.
Companies that have no debts and healthy cash reserves: In times of optimism, it’s very tempting to listen to your accountant and pay dividends. I’m glad we nearly always politely listen to our accountant and then do the exact opposite. We try to protect ourselves against our own optimism bias. We expect bad times to happen and plan for it.
A diversified product offering: Airlines are very vulnerable because, in the case of a pandemonium, people will stop flying for business. But they’ll still need to talk to the business partner they were going to visit in the first place. If airlines would have invested in high quality video conferencing, they might have helped a lot of companies and event organizers to solve a huge problem. The Job-to-be-done of business traveling is not the journey, but to facilitate high-value meetings. It’s not because people stop traveling, that their underlying motivation for traveling has disappeared. For more on Job-to-be-Done: See our post on The Influence Framework.
A Culture of Experimentation: This is a unique moment in time to experiment with video conferencing and collaboration software. Companies that are already used to working from home and video conferencing have an advantage. We are now rapidly experimenting with software tor virtual classrooms and for virtual sprints. If people can’t travel, then we’ll have to redesign our learning experience within a couple of weeks.
Speed up innovation: If your staff now suddenly has time on their hand, then use this opportunity to invest in your content, brand, reputation. Never waste a good crisis, because it allows you to invest in the things you usually don’t have the time for while the economy was going strong.
Take a lot of small risks, instead of one big risk. When the world becomes highly unknown, embrace fast experimentation. Prototype ideas, run pilots and try to get promising signals as soon as possible.
I don’t know how this crisis will evolve, and of course, we didn’t see this one coming. And to be honest, there’s no way to tell if this will play out well. We have to embrace it and practice anti-fragility.
On several occasions I have been writing against fiscal austerity. In my argument, I followed the classic Keynsian argument that governments should do the exact opposite of what people need to do when in debt: spend more. This argument has been defended by Nobel Prize Laureates Joseph Stiglitz and Paul Krugman and has been argued for, both with strong data-support and with a highly entertaining Scottish accent by Mark Blyth, the author of the book “Against Austerity”. (must watch lecture).
This is what Economics Professor Tyler Cowen writes on his blog (which really is the essential go-to place during their crisis):
Of course the content of the spending matters a great deal, but this is in principle the right thing to do. But here is the catch: out on social media, and in the old days of the blogosphere, there was so much Merkel hatred: “the austerity queen who killed thousands,” etc. But now she has been vindicated. We all can agree that a government should (on average) run surpluses in good times and deficits in bad times. Well…2011-2012…those were the good times. Yikes.
Merkel goes up in status with this, big time. And of course it is no surprise that a bunch of Germans would have a better sense of what the bad times really can look like.
Nassim Taleb insists that this is NOT a black swan. For the simple reason that the outbreak of a global pandemic was a highly probable and predictable event. We were warned for it by leading scientists for decades, and we had multiple occasions where we could have tested our capacity to deal with it (e.g. the SARS-outbreak). He is therefore very harsh on companies that decided to use the abundant availability of cheap capital in the last decade to buy back their own stocks, which would drive up the value, that in turn lead to bonuses dividends for management and shareholders. Taleb on Twitter:
“Explain to me why we should spent taxpayer money to bailout companies (airlines) who spent their cash buying their own stock so the CEO gets optionality, instead of having a crisis buffer. We should bail out individuals based on needs, not corporations”.
BTW: this is the theme of his latest book, called “Skin in the Game”, in which he argues that a lot of terrible decision making could easily be avoided if the ones who took the decision can be both awarded and punished for their decisions. This crisis might teach shareholders something about expecting more skin in the game from the management of the companies they invest in.